By most accounts, Google+ has failed to make a significant dent in people's online habits, despite having 359 million members, according to one unofficial count. But that doesn't mean it hasn't changed the way people use Google. In fact, the tech giant is letting its flailing social network dictate other services it offers -- killing some to make way for Google+.
The latest example comes from The Wall Street Journal, which reported this week that Google CEO Larry Page asked engineers to develop a privacy feature that would let Googlers throttle the amount of data they send to Google's servers. The would-be setting would have let you toggle through "kitten," "cat" and "tiger" modes of Google, which would tell the company whether it should collect a "minimal, medium or maximum" amount of data about those who conduct a Google search or watch a YouTube video.
But it wasn't meant to be. According to the Journal, the project faced the dizzying challenge of coordinating privacy policies across diverse products. But there was one other self-imposed obstacle: "Allowing people to select the maximum-protection setting, known as the 'tin-foil-hat option,' went against Google's newer efforts to get more people to share information about themselves on the Google+ social-networking service," sources told the paper's Amir Efrati. Google didn't answer a HuffPost inquiry about the Journal article.
This feline-inspired privacy setting isn't the only thing Google has built and then dropped because of Google+. With a small but loyal following, Google Reader was "sunsetted" -- Google's euphemism for killed -- earlier this year, after it decided it was better if people found and shared news on the social network rather than through an RSS reader. Similarly, when Google Chat was replaced by Google Hangouts in May, you could no longer display a "Gchat status" to all of your contacts. It's believed Google axed that feature as well in order to get people posting in its "ghost town."
Google created Google+ in 2011 to curb the threat that social networks posed to its business. People were increasingly using social sites, mainly Facebook, to find what to read or watch online, sucking traffic from Google search. But in the distance loomed a larger danger: What if Facebook created its own Web search engine -- not just one that brought up info about friends -- and offered better results because it knew its members so intimately?
So Google built a social network to get a Facebook-sized pile of data, but is still waiting for people to show up and spent more than an average of 3.3 minutes on the site, according to comScore research from 2012. It's been argued that while Google would have loved to dethrone Facebook, it's still content running Google+ as long as people enter biographical data about themselves, even if they never return.
It's unlikely any Google executive is going to lose sleep over doing away with any of sunsetted features, which were never going to be core moneymakers for the company. But what if, in trying to incubate Google+, it smothers the next great idea?